In the last couple of posts, I have been writing about my experience of neuroplasticity. I am going to emphasize that I am writing about it, at an experiential level.
In other words, I am aware that my experience is anecdotal evidence for scientists and social scientists because to my knowledge, neuroplasticity has not been studied in a systematic way for as long as I have been living post-injury. (According to Dr Allen Brown at the Mayo Clinic. He presented the evidence from studies that have been done at the Mayo Clinic on Neuroplasticity after brain injury at the Brain Injury Awareness Day 2011 panel that he and I participated on as well as many other government, military officials and the wife of a wounded warrior.)
I am particularly interested in how vision therapy increases neuroplasticity. I got to vision therapy relatively quickly after my concussion/brain injury because I couldn’t process what I was reading and because I was not getting help for this issue from my primary care doctor or my neurologist. I wanted to get back to work and, even with my injury (and little overall self-awareness about its consequences or sequalae), I knew I had to be able to read.
In response to my last two posts about neuroplasticity I am feeling following my 3 1/2 month unexpected setback this summer, I reached out to Sue Barry, a neurobioologist at Mt Holyoke for information about what’s actually happening in my brain. I wanted to understand what’s happening.
Now I realize that there is value to me (and others) in trying to map my experience with what some scientists understand is happening in my brain.
In response to my question to Sue Barry PhD about the role of vision therapy and neuroplasticity, she wrote:
“Vision therapy changes the way we process visual information, and this can have dramatic effects on how well we function as both Anne and I have discovered. In chapter 6 of Fixing My Gaze, I describe some possible ways that vision therapy techniques alter synaptic connections in the visual cortex. In addition, our mental outlook and mood alters the release of neuromodulators onto cortical cells and synapses from certain regions of the brainstem and basal forebrain. These neuromodulators then alter the strength of existing synapses. I cover some of this in the last chapter of Fixing My Gaze. Thus, mental outlook and mood have powerful effects of brain function and plasticity.” (By email, October 28, 2014)
So I have been reading and and re-reading her book, Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions by Susan R Barry with a foreword by Oliver Sacks. (It was copyrighted in 2009 by Basic Books in New York, USA)
And then this week, I went to an amazing panel at SXSW-Eco on “Networked Resiliency and Sustainability”. It’s a long story about how I got to the panel, but the short answer is that much of my thinking about my brain and recovery is influenced by the research and work that I did on the broad topic of sustainability that I did at the Environmental Law Institute pre-injury as a senior environmental economist. Post-injury, to the extent and when my cogntive function allows me to think abstractly, I try to apply what I learned about sustainability and the economy to running my everyday life as an individual. I learned alot about resilience when I finally got to rehabilitation after my brain injury, although it was not called that. So I was attracted to the panel title “Networked Resilience and Sustainability” and wondered if it would apply to how I think about my post-injury medical problems.
It did. It was fascinating and stimulating to see how the work on sustainability has been continued by others after the end of my career (due to the difficulties I had getting comprehensive post-injury treatment and possibly by the injury itself).
It was fascinating and stimulating to see the societal context for the work on sustainability that is being done around the world in 2014.
And it was fascinating to see how what I have learned about resilience and building networks to support optimal recovery from my injury is being done by cities to support optimal recovery after weather shocks such as hurricanes and tornadoes and other extreme weather incidents that we now understand the societal benefits of planning for on many different levels.
After listening to the talk, I understood that perhaps some of the euphoria I am attributing to neuroplasticity is really from the resilience I feel after getting past a setback that I know I am lucky to have cut as short as I did.
So I wondered how much of what I am describing as how I feel when I feel neuroplasticity is really how I feel when I feel resilience. Probably some of both!
More on all of this in my next post.
Here’s the link to the “Networked Resilience and Sustainability” Panel at SXSW-ECo